Tariq Abu Khdeir begged his mother to take him on a trip to Jerusalem; she agreed on condition he got his grades up. An American-born teen from Tampa, Florida, he had last been on a visit to see relatives here 11 years ago – when he was four years old.
Of all the cousins he connected with, Mohammed Abu Khdeir was his favorite.
“We were together all the time, playing games. He laughed a lot. He was a funny kid. A bit skinny, short, but a cool kid,” says Tariq, who, along with his cousin who was kidnapped and murdered last week, has become the accidental poster child of Israeli brutality towards Palestinians. Watching the protests after his cousin’s death, he says, he tried to jump a fence and get away from the crowds when he was grabbed by undercover police and beaten unconscious, in disturbing footage captured on film and seen around the world.
He didn’t throw any stones, he says, and no evidence has been presented to the contrary. But a Jerusalem court fined him 3,000 shekels, sentenced him to nine days house arrest in Beit Hanina, and released him, largely because he’s an underage U.S. citizen whose brutal beating was condemned in Washington and in many corners of the world.
“If the family in Florida hadn’t pushed for it, Tariq would still be in jail,” says a cousin, also named Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who moved here nine months ago from Sacremento, California.
Disregarding the house arrest order, Tariq was at the mourning tent in Shoafat Monday where hundreds filed in to greet the family of Mohammed Abu Khdeir. The still-purple and puffy eyes, the stitches in his chin and the scabs along his elbows –signs of being dragged – make clear who he is immediately. The American teenager who has overnight become a symbol of the Palestinian story is due to fly back to sunny Florida next week, he told Haaretz.
By then the third intifada may have started, or not. To hear some here tell it, the fact that six Israelis – apparently also teenagers -- have been arrested in connection with the murder is a sign that things will wind down soon. To hear others, this is just the beginning, and even the full prosecution of the suspects who tortured and killed Abu Khdeir will do little to recapture the angry genie that has already been let out of the bottle.
By day, Shoafat seems calm if depressing. The light rail station here has been destroyed and burnt, rocks strewn along the lines that were intended by Israeli officials to unite East and West. Israeli workers could be seen sweeping up the debris under Border Police guard. By night however, multiple Palestinian sources reported fierce clashes with IDF soldiers, claiming that stun grenades, tear gas canisters and rubber bullets were shot into the mourning tent itself, sparking further outrage.
Just steps from the house of mourning on Al Ma’ri Street – named for an atheist Arab writer who earned fame a millennia ago – is the main road, where IDF jeeps wait across from a large, burned-out building. It was from the third floor, says Samer, a 22-year-old Palestinian with a scabbed-over circle on his forehead, that Israeli gunmen shot rubber bullets at the crowd a few days ago, injuring him and many others. “It’s not over,” offers Samer, an electrician who preferred not to give his real name. “Is it the start of the third intifada? I hope so. And this time we won’t stop until they withdraw from land that is ours.”
The anger does not emanate just from the youth. A middle-aged member of the extended family who asked not to be named said if Israeli soldiers would stay away from the area, things might calm down. But instead they keep coming back, seemingly eager to engage. “They look like they think this is fun,” he says.
Many people in the Abu Khdeir family, established and upper-middle class, are more hopeful. His aunt Hana, for example, used to work at the Alternative Information Center, a joint Palestinian-Israeli project, and she maintains many friendships with Israelis. “I think now that these arrests have been made, things will calm down,” she says. “But Israel has to do the same thing that it’s done to Palestinians. It needs to demolish those terrorists’ homes, too.” She lifts a pants leg to show an enormous bruise on her left calf where she was hit by a rubber bullet in this courtyard as she tried to take cover. Despite her belief in there being good and bad people on each side of the conflict, she says near tears, she has a hard time fathoming the level of cruelty shown to her nephew. “How do you burn someone alive? Even Hamas, which held Gilad Shalit for five years, never harmed him once he was their prisoner.”
The man who continues to greet the well-wishers with some mix of sadness and restrained rage is Hussein Abu Khdeir, the slain teen’s father. On Monday he received not just the expected Palestinians but a host of Israelis, including Shelly Yachimovich, Amir Peretz and Avraham Burg. Abu Khdeir also made the unusual move of leaving the mourning tent to go with his wife – and Tariq and his parents - to the Muqata in Ramallah because apparently Mohammed Abbas was not allowed to come to them, a fact not lost on many Palestinians here. On Tuesday, other Jewish Israelis planning to visit the tent include a delegation of Tag Meir, the movement opposed to the so-called “price tag” attacks.
“This might be the start of the third intifada. I think it’s all in the Israeli government’s hands to make peace or a new intifada,” Abu Khdeir says. “The Palestinian leadership is weak and has no real power. Israel is at a point now where it must choose. It wants peace and it wants land. But it must choose, either peace, or land.”